Knowing and Using our Rich Jewish Tradition

By: Cindy Goldstein
Executive Director
The Darrell D. Friedman Institute for Professional Development

The visionaries of 45 years ago in both the social work and Jewish communal field, such as Dr. Daniel Thursz, brought together secular learning with Jewish learning. Whether the technique was to learn them in distinct settings or integrate one with the other, Dr. Thursz and others recognized then that Federation and other communal workers needed Jewish learning to inform their work in the Jewish community. After all, what would be the difference between a Jewish nonprofit and any other nonprofit organization? Jewish tradition, text and values inform our work and make it holy.

All of us working or volunteering in the Jewish community are doing holy work.  We are making a difference in people’s lives within a Jewish context.

In order to do that, we should not be afraid of learning, yet instead let the values and the teachings of the past give us the foundation to be strong leaders, to make decisions, to lay the foundation for how we treat others, for how we give tzedakah and, most of all, to inspire us as leaders.

As leaders – professional and lay – we are the emissaries. When we are knowledgeable about text, tradition, ritual, values and Israel… and can then in turn teach others around us, what a blessing. Looking to the past inspires us and helps us to innovate. The Bible, Talmud and related texts have determined meaning and identity for the Jews for centuries. Dr. Erica Brown, scholar and educator, uses text to show us how inspired Biblical leaders take on a mission or act on a calling, and then she asks us to look into our own psyche. She teaches us that “inspiration does not just help us recharge our batteries but it is critical in expanding the membership of our organizations, retaining those who are burning out and keeping active members joined to an institution’s core values.”

Our tradition is rich. Look at the Hagaddah and how we use it to “bring the past into the now. In order to fully learn from and appreciate that which went before us, we must bring that past into the present and search for the relevance to our now,” comments Orlee Turitz, Director of the Jewish Leadership Institute of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington.

Professional skill sets and competencies in the Jewish communal field include Jewish literacy. This may entail board and staff learning Jewish history together such as in DFI’s current Jewish Heritage program, or bringing text study into an organization’s business, or taking a class in Judaism 101. Part of our responsibility as Jewish leaders is to increase our commitment to Jewish literacy.

To take it a step further, Hal Lewis, President and CEO of Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies, contends that Jewish leadership is something different. Jewish literacy is not sufficient to guarantee Jewish leadership. True leadership development involves transmission of skills such as coping with change, visioning, motivating people, fostering teamwork, mentoring and risk taking. In teaching all of these skills there is much to be learned from our tradition and it is incumbent upon us to follow in the footsteps of a Daniel Thursz and continue to find ways to meld the “skill” with the “Jewish” and therefore to work “better,” coming from an informed Jewish tradition.

We stand on the shoulders of those who came before us as we continue our holy work and perpetuate a strong Jewish community for generations to come.

Register today for DFI’s Jewish Heritage>>
Next session: April 18, 2012

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Filed under Jewish Learning, Leadership Development

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